Designed to replace the antiquated, propeller-driven AD Skyraider, the A-4 Skyhawk was first flown on June 22, 1954. Douglas exceeded the original design requirements by delivering a carrier-capable aircraft that was only half the Navy's weight specification and so compact that it did not need folding wings. The A-4 was the first to use "buddy" air-to-air refueling (an A-4 could refuel other aircraft of the same type), which was helpful when operating in remote locations where dedicated tankers were impractical. The A-4 served the US Navy until 2003 and remained the preferred warplane for the Marine Corps until the 1980s, even after the introduction of the A-7 Corsair II.
VMA-142 “Flying Gators” was established in 1942 as VMSB-142, deactivated in 1945 only to be reactivated in July 1946 as VMF-142. In 1990 they became VMFA-142. In the early 1970’s the squadron was first equipped with the A-4L before transitioning to the A-4F. The A-4F was ordered in 1965 and differed from the previous A-4E with the addition of steerable nose wheels, wing lift spoilers and upgraded ejection seats. The A-4F also had the hump-back dorsal and bent re-fuel probe. In the 1980s the unit began transitioning to the AV-8B Harrier.